Buenos Aires: Best New Venues
Published: January 2011
By Colin Barraclough
From art deco mansions to historic restaurants, a series of renovations has created great new hotels and restaurants in Buenos Aires.
The French Classical Algodon Mansion (suites from $400), in upscale Recoleta, became the city’s most exclusive boutique hotel when it opened in September. Inside the landmark building, expect discreet luxury rather than glitz: 10 ebony wood–floored suites have been decorated with a spare, masculine hand, and guests are given round-the-clock butler service. A block away, centennial magnolia trees shade a 1934 palace, part of the 165-room Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt Buenos Aires (doubles from $495). Inside, crystal chandeliers and ornate plasterwork are offset by sleek Modernist furniture. Tucked among the early-20th-century town houses in the fashionable Palermo neighborhood, the restored Great Value Magnolia Hotel Boutique (doubles from $180) has an original stained-glass ceiling in the foyer and antique furnishings in the eight bedrooms. The fluted façade of the Great Value Moreno Hotel Buenos Aires (doubles from $148), located two blocks from the Casa Rosada, where Eva Perón gave her famous address, dates to the 1920’s—when Argentina embraced Art Deco. A concertina-gated elevator ferries guests up to the 39 ample rooms, fitted with furniture upholstered in sea greens or crimsons.
For contemporary crafts, head to the Palermo showroom Arte Étnico Argentino. Ricardo Paz and his staff hand-finish the rustic furniture he sources from villages in the Santiago del Estero province in the country’s northwest. Look for cupboards made of naturally felled chanar wood and colorful hand-woven textiles. Amid San Telmo’s antiques galleries, ArtePampa sells pre-Columbian-style dolls, llama-motif mirrors, and lampshades of lacquered, textured paper, all handcrafted in the central province of La Pampa. A block away, master silversmith Marcelo Toledo creates ornate, silver-lined gourds for sipping mate, Argentina’s national drink. In Retiro, book dealer Poema 20 offers first editions and historical paraphernalia. Our favorites: Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia and pictures of Jorge Luis Borges at his family’s kitchen table.
Four Argentine presidents have been members of the stately Club del Progreso (dinner for two $45), in the Tribunales district. Since the restaurant’s revamp two years ago, politicos have returned for the modern takes on classic Porteño fare—mushroom-stuffed squid and tender suckling pig roasted in a clay oven—in the classic oak-paneled dining room. Highballs and Hurricanes are served with just the right degree of gravitas at the lacquered mahogany bar in Recoleta’s Hotel Club Francés (dinner for two $75). A recent makeover lightened the marble-clad interior with contemporary splashes of purple and ultramarine. In-the-know diners reserve a table at one of the city’s puertas cerradas, or closed-door restaurants, where chefs open their houses to a handful of patrons two or three nights a week. One of the movement’s founding institutions, Palermo-based Casa Coupage (dinner for two $190), is a wine lover’s dream: the sommelier-owners pair mineral-rich Chardonnays and dense Argentinean Malbecs with local dishes such as skirt steak with quinoa and portobello mushrooms. An unmarked doorway in Villa Crespo conceals Almacén Secreto (dinner for two $30), the private kingdom of chef Abigail Machicado, who prepares dishes from Argentina’s south (venison raviolones), center (oven-baked Paraná River fish), and north (charquisillo, a stew made with cured meat). In a country built on immigration, Koreans are among the latest wave of newcomers. At Cocina Sunae (dinner for two $50), Christina Sunae serves delicate pork dumplings and salads bursting with papaya and mango; save space for her green-tea ice cream.
After tango shows and fútbol matches, there are plenty of ways to access Buenos Aires’s rich traditions. The labyrinth of dwellings, cisterns, creeks, and courtyards below San Telmo at El Zanjón reveal centuries of urban living dating back to the 1500’s, when the city was founded. In neighboring Montserrat, the recently restored Palacio Barolo became the city’s first skyscraper when it opened in 1923. A tour of the Art Nouveau–inspired building offers some of the best views of the skyline. Argentina’s leading folk musicians stamp out complex rhythms at Palermo’s popular music hall La Peña del Colorado. In less-visited Caballito, locals have bargained with butchers and greengrocers for more than 100 years under the iron arcades of Mercado del Progreso. If you’re looking for the perfect souvenir, visit the Pick Market, Recoleta’s airy new food hall.
The much-anticipated Terminal C at Ministro Pistarini International Airport, where foreign traffic has grown significantly in the past five years, will open in May with new shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. In the meantime, the best amenities can be found in Terminal A: for last-minute shoppers, Los Robles sells handmade polo boots along with leather belts, hats, and bags. The Duty Free Shop sells the best alfajores, chocolate-coated cookies filled with dulce de leche (milk caramel).